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Those who don’t know statistics are doomed to . . . rely on statistics anyway

To paraphrase Bill James, the alternative to doing statistics is not “not doing statistics,” it’s “doing bad statistics.”

Some people bemoan the excessive quantitative nature of academic political science nowadays. I certainly agree that there’s room for nonquantitative work, but you also want to have some people who know their way around numbers. Or else you’ll end up with this sort of horrible non-analysis by David Runciman of U.S. elections. What’s striking about Runciman’s article–and he’s a well-respected political theorist, I’m sure–is that he relies on statistics all over the place. He just doesn’t know what he’s talking about–and, even worse, doesn’t seem to know that he doesn’t know.

I mouth off all the time about things I don’t know about. But at least when I go on about Karl Popper, for example, I ground it in my own experience as a researcher, I don’t just spout off in general.

Anyway, my point is not to pick on Runciman for a year-old article that he probably whipped off in a couple of hours and maybe already regrets. I’m just using it as an example of how people who don’t know statistics are doomed to rely on statistics all the same.

Just as Bill James pointed out how fans who hate sabermetrics (and all it stands for) were forming all sorts of misinformed opinions based on batting averages and the like.

4 Comments

  1. anon says:

    Do you happen to have a link to James' exact quote? Thanks!

  2. C. Zorn says:

    You *really* need to cross-post this on Monkey Cage…

  3. ryan says:

    maybe runciman should use statisticssolutions.com to help get his info straight

  4. jonathan says:

    In baseball situations, managers & teams have developed rules of thumb that generally mimic the statistical evaluation. A good example is stealing 3rd; the average fan thinks it should be done all the time but teams didn't before B.James and now they know why. But I know that OBP completely changed my attitude towards the game; as in Wade Boggs, a guy constantly criticised for "selfish" batting, had OBP's for several years that were Williams-esque.

    And understanding that gives life to arguing with dolts who cut down Babe Ruth – as in, "He only hit home runs" and all that nonsense. 2nd all-time OBP, only 8 points behind Ted.